I see cycles around 10 years long. These are the times I can remember my severe episodes.
1978 Break up with high school sweetheart
1982 Mono keeps me from national grad school auditions after breakup with second sweetheart
1986 Break up with third sweetheart1989 Fiance goes on world tour
1996 Death of my Father
1998 Lose my job
2003 Disastrous contact with high school sweetheart
2009 Lose my job
2010 End of cancer treatment
2013 Lose my boss and mentor
Always losses. Big ones. But why these particular ones? We all experience loss every day. What was so special about these? To be sure, there are some biggies in there. Losing a parent. Life threatening illness. Lost jobs and lovers. Lost dreams. What is it that makes me react so powerfully to life's big losses?
Part of me really wants to know what I did wrong. But another part, the runner, the fighter doesn't care about the last episode. I want to know how to delay or prevent the next one. Exercise more? Eat differently? Change my thinking? Change my lifestyle?
The depression after each later breakup was like an echo of the first. I didn't see an event as a failure... I saw it as another failure. Now I see that they are connected. These breakups defined the first 30 years of my life. Too fat. Too poor. Until I met Mrs P, I wasn't sure anyone could ever love me. I was simply an unattractive man. When she went to the Soviet Union and Japan on tour, just months before our wedding, I went into a dark funk. Staying home. Not bathing. Watching TV. Eating Pizza. Gaining weight. It was as if I was sure she wasn't coming home. Certain she would meet someone actually lovable out there in the world and leave me. That fall, after we were married, a long quiet phase began.
My father died 7 years later, in February of 1996. February became an annual downswing for me. These were usually a week or two long, and I rarely anticipated them. I would find myself tired and unmotivated, bored and irritable, and then realize what time of year it was. By the second week of February, Dad's birthday, I would be fine again. But many of the subsequent episodes were colored by that pivotal loss.
The depressions after my job losses in particular were very much about my Dad. He worked hard, often at two or three jobs. He was respected and admired for his ethic and his integrity. Getting fired felt like I was soiling his legacy. As if I were reflecting badly on his life. I even tried contacting my high school flame, as if connecting to my teenage self could re-connect me with Dad. About a year after the second job loss, I was admitted into the mental hospital. There they taught me that I could change my emotions by changing the way I thought about things. I began to change the way I thought about my father. He wasn't a saint. He was a man. A good man, to be sure, but not a perfect one. I didn't have to live up to his standard. I didn't have to become him. And in time the arc of that loss swung to a kind of resolution.
This current episode doesn't have anything to do with a lost lover, though at first, it felt just like that. And it isn't about losing a job, though that was a fear I had at first. Looking back, I think that the cycle I've been in this spring really began three years ago, when my cancer treatment was finished. The friendly caregivers all went away. Mum went home. Mrs P went back to work. The doctor visits went from once a day to once or twice a month. I was lost. I had no one. No wonder I got depressed. No wonder losing my friend and mentor three years later dredged up so many fears. Fears of death. Fears of life without focus or purpose.
When they told me I didn't have any more cancer, I thought, "Now what? What if I've gone through this and wind up going back to the same miserable man I was before?" I didn't really understand how much I had changed until I met Coach. Losing her was like losing all that, too.
Tonight, I look at my life and find I am either at the end of a very short and intense meta cycle, or else I am in the middle of an issue that will haunt me for years to come. "What if my life has no purpose? What if I die alone, and for nothing?"
Could I have stopped the two previous cycles before they led to misery and hospitalization? I don't know. Probably not. For one thing, I didn't even know I was sick, back then. I wasn't even diagnosed until after my Dad died. By then, my habits were ingrained. It took 5 weeks in the nut house to start breaking them. No I don't know how I could have prevented the first two meta cycles. But I have a plan for cutting this third one short.
This time, things are different. I know what my disease is, and what it does to me. I'm learning how it works. I finally have a good team of mental health pros whom I trust. I have an amazing support system of friends, family, and co-workers who know about my illness and love me anyway. When you are used to hiding something like bipolar mood disorder, you learn to dread what might happen if anyone ever shines a light on it. What I've found is that people keep loving me, even with the disease. And that helps. A lot.
But the biggest difference is that I know that the fear in my depression's core is a lie. 100%. My life does have a purpose. I am not alone. And I refuse to live for nothing.
This time, I can see the bastard coming. God didn't save my life so I could give it back to fear. I am here to kick fear right back to hell where it belongs.
Will this kind of thinking keep me from swinging back into the shadows again? I can't say. But there's only one way to find out.
Start praying... and start kicking.